Why does everyone want to fix “Glee”?

Even the show's biggest fans have serious gripes (we're looking at you, Mr. Schue). Here's a breakdown

Topics: Glee,

Why does everyone want to fix "Glee"?The cast of "Glee" in last night's season finale.

For all its popularity, “Glee” sometimes has trouble keeping even its most devoted fans happy. As Fox’s zeitgeisty dramedy/musical/farce wraps up a hugely successful second season — the finale aired last night — it would be impossible to escape the chorus of critics who’ve taken aim at one or more aspects of the show, and constantly suggest “how to fix”  it. We’ve put together a compendium of all the gripes, which fall into five clear categories:

Schizo drama

“Glee” has always been a bit of a balancing act. Since the beginning, the show’s writers have toed the line between the earnest and absurd. And, this season in particular, the results have many viewers complaining that the show veered into a pattern of unnerving unevenness, a kind of dramatic schizophrenia.

  • “‘Glee’ can be inconsistent from week to week (and sometimes even within the span of a single episode).” — New York magazine 
  • “This is a program with the potential to be one of the most memorable TV series of all time, one that reaches powerful, throat-tightening heights, yet it keeps undermining itself with dumb plotting and inconsistent character motivation.” — MediaPost’s Gary Holmes 
  • “‘Glee’ has a habit of discarding plots with weeks of potential, somehow only clinging to awful plot lines … The more crazy things that happen to the characters, and the more often those crazy things are squeegeed away in a single clumsy stroke, the less we care about what happens for the characters.” — The Pacific Northwest Inlander’s Daniel Walters 
  • “['Glee's' writers] skip erratically from plot point to plot point expecting our emotions to go with them on the roller coaster. This is a show I fell head over heels in love with and that used to routinely make me cry. But it doesn’t anymore, because they don’t spend enough time developing anything, making sure that actions have consequences, and paying attention to character continuity.” — Gawker’s Brian Moylan

No more tributes!

Starting with the 15th episode, “The Power of Madonna,” Glee has occasionally jettisoned its normal routine in favor of outings devoted entirely to an artist or cultural touchstone. These “tribute episodes” focus on the likes of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Fleetwood Mac, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” While some have been received better than others, many critics have pointed to these diversions as a major weakness. 

  • “The ‘theme of the week’ model has failed the show this year.” — The Atlantic’s Kevin Fallon 
  • “[Tribute episodes] feel less like continuations of the show’s ongoing story than glorified interruptions … [meant to] generate buzz and sell MP3s.” — Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz
  • “Add [the theme episodes] all together and it feels like a lot of starting and stopping, not to mention a lot of stories crafted around songs (as opposed to the other way around).” — TV Guide’s Denise Martin 

Quit preaching

“Glee” has never shied away from tough issues. In fact, it’s one of the show’s trademarks. Whether it’s exploring the difficulty of being gay in high school, or the unfair physical microscope under which teenage girls are often viewed, Ryan Murphy and team aim for water-cooler relevancy with undeniable verve. But many have grown weary of the show’s methods in addressing hot-button issues:

  • “When did ‘Glee’ become an after school special?” — The Frisky’s Jessica Wakeman
  • “The subtle ways ‘Glee’ once handled such important issues somehow evolved into overly heavy-handed, maudlin public service announcements.” — The Atlantic’s Kevin Fallon
  • “Are you ready for another after school special? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because ‘Glee’ is determined to give it to you.” — Hollywood.com’s Kelsea Stahler 
  • “While it’s always nice to remind impressionable viewers that hating or humiliating groups of people is bad, Glee has made this notion one of its crushingly obvious, season-long themes.” — EW’s Ken Tucker 

The Mr. Schuester Problem

“Glee’s” adults have, on more than one occasion, drawn some flack for taking undue attention away from the students of William McKinley High School. It’s a complaint that’s been magnified by a rotating cast of celebrity cameos (“one-off contrivances“), such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s sultry substitute Holly and John Stamos’ cocky dentist Carl. Even Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) — the show’s breakout star through its first two years — has drawn criticism as her “connection to Glee club becomes increasingly tenuous.” 

It seems, however, that the most polarizing adult of the bunch is Glee coach Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). His character has been tabbed by some as dramatically inert, while others have pointed to his close relationship with his students as “over-sharing” and “creepy.”

  • “The current trend on Glee is to depict Will Schuester running around like a sex-obsessed, self-centered man whose colleagues must constantly state is ‘a good guy.’” — PopMatters’ Elizabeth Wiggins
  • “[I] cringe whenever ‘Schue’ pops up.” — EW’s Annie Barrett 
  • “Matthew Morrison’s new single makes me as uncomfortable as his Glee character does.” — Mamapop.com’s Snarky Amber 
  • “Perhaps the most insufferable character on television.” — The Atlantic’s Kevin Fallon 
  • “For all his strong moral fiber and concern for the students in his Glee Club, Will Schuester has often toed the line between catchy and ‘To Catch a Predator.’” — Buddy.TV’s Meghan Carlson 

The Music

Maybe the single most important factor in “Glee’s” success has been its music. The show’s co-optation of famous harmonies, past and present, tapped into the viewing public’s yen for elaborate musical set pieces on television. (It also, not insignificantly, created a robust revenue stream in the form of iTunes singles sales.) But, for all the success that Glee’s musicality has engendered, it’s also generated some heated criticism:

  • “We don’t get why the Glee people, many of them musical-theater veterans, can’t sound as unplugged as that magical bass guitar Kevin McHale’s Artie is always thumping on.” — E! Online’s Joal Ryan
  • “What had been a musical comedy with at least one toe dipped in real waters now seems to be an over-produced, overly Auto-Tuned variety show that exists merely to sell downloads of its covers — a modern version of Your Hit Parade.” — USA Today’s Robert Blanco
  • “‘Glee’ is a musical that is at its least endearing during the musical numbers.” Newsweek’s Joshua Alston


Peter Finocchiaro is a senior editor at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @PLFino.

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